Vol. XVIII, No. 2

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Fall, 2005

Web Site Review: Choma, Data Publication System for the Hacımusalar Project

Susan C. Jones

The Hacımusalar Project,1 begun in 1993, has an ambitious goal, studying human activity in the Elmalı basin of southwestern Turkey from Neolithic through Byzantine times. It involves both excavations (primarily at Hacımusalar Höyük) and field surveys in the Elmalı valley. The höyük itself is one of the largest in the area, measuring over 3.5 hectares with a height varying between 9.5 and 16.0 meters above the surrounding plain. Excavations on the mound have turned up material ranging from Early Bronze Age occupations to the remains of a Byzantine church. Inscriptions found on and near the höyük identify the site as Choma -- a Roman city first mentioned by Pliny (HN 5.101) and included in a list of Byzantine bishoprics.

The Hacımusalar web site is extensive and provides a wonderful resource for researchers interested in the archaeology of ancient Lycia. First put on the web in 1998, the web site has undergone several iterations, the latest occurring in August, 2005. Readers might wish to view the website as they read this review. It covers both the excavations and surveys with pages devoted to preliminary field reports, procedural manuals, site plans and databases. Although the primary audience for the site will be fellow project members, advanced students and professionals, individual articles contain enough explanatory material for a general reader to understand their contents. For example, the introductory page for the excavations begins with a definition of höyükler, the plural of höyük, and a brief description of their formation. Additionally some features are aimed directly at the general reader -- video footage in which individual project workers explain their jobs.

General Layout

The home page is relatively simple. It consists of the briefest possible description of the project and the listing of project sponsors, along with a sidebar menu to the website's features. Menu entries include:

This sidebar remains on screen for the pages directly accessible from the menu, but frequently disappears on the next level of detailed pages. (For instance, it is there for the excavation introduction, but not for the page reporting on details of the western slope excavations.) Use of the back button on your browser quickly brings back the higher level page with its sidebar. These more detailed pages also do not necessarily have the bottom-of-the-page link to the homepage that appears at the higher levels.

The links all open in the same window.2 I prefer this approach because it does not crowd the screen of my laptop with myriad windows. The majority of reports on this website are written for scholars by scholars and, therefore, cannot be quickly read or digested. This also means that individual reports can be lengthy, especially when large maps and figures are included. To their credit, authors have taken advantage of the medium to provide copious photographs, maps, satellite images, 360o VR panoramas and video footage. These visual resources are helpful and to the point, not just used to display the wonders of the technology. Pages showing results from database searches can also be lengthy because the detail presented is extensive with one row of data, including thumbnail photographs, for each object.

Searches available:

Although I did not find instructions to guide me through the complexities of the database, many structured searches are provided. Data come exclusively from excavations on the höyük itself; field survey data from the Elmalı basin are not yet included. From the sidebar menu, search options of the field archives include browse, database, maps and media. Search forms provide field-by-field search options, so the user needs knowledge of the excavation to use them efficiently. Excavations reports provide this knowledge through discussions of the operations, loci, structures and objects found within each area.

The browse entry shows statistics by excavation area (down to the phase and locus levels of detail) and allows detailed searches in each of the categories given above, along with a site plan of the area chosen.

Searches available under the database entry are the broadest, searching all entries for the the various categories of data. Selection of a category (animal bones, ceramics, locus sheets, photos, architectural plans and phases) leads to a structured search that allows specific text searches by individual field. The glossary link provides some guidance on terminology used to describe the searchable fields. Some fields provide menus of available words for the text searches (specific animals like bear, rabbit, sheep/goat) while others allow wildcard matches (locus, context type).

The searching on the map entry is initially confusing. A minor annoyance is that the starting place, a map of the entire höyük, does not provide the labels for its grid system. Of the three ways to select a new map -- by area and phase, by loci and by architectural plan -- only the selections by general excavation area and by architectural plan seem to produce readable maps. The phase option under the area selection option does not seem to work; all phases appear even if only specific phases are requested.3 The selection by loci does not isolate the loci selected. On the other hand, if you approach the map from "View Phasing" option on the database page, the map will highlight the chosen locus. The zoom button above the map is easy to use and the resulting presentations show the map in dimensions ranging from 250 m. by 250 m. to 1.0 m by 1.0 m. Similarly, the query button leads to pages displaying database entries relating to the features displayed on the map. However, not all loci listed on the menus seem to have had their data loaded into the database.

The tables resulting from these searches show a row of summarized data for each object that meets the search criteria. Within these rows, some items are links to more detailed information. For example, a search for all bichrome ware produces 125 entries, the summary report shows the catalog number, the context, lot, connecting pieces, form, fabric, shape, ware, preservation, comparanda and thumbnail photos. Links are given to a more detailed catalog entry, the locus sheet for the context and larger versions of the thumbnails.

The media page lists all videos and panoramas shot with their file format in chronological order, by field season. Each entry includes the creator, file format, production date and a description of the content. Many of these videos and panoramas are also accessible from links on pertinent excavation reports.

The collections entry under the field archive section leads to a list of sample searches with their results.

Other Comments:

These observations are listed in no particular order.

Since this is an ongoing project, there are links that lead to planned sections that have not yet been written. Each uncompleted section, however, contains a "coming-attractions" message rather than the annoying "Error 404 - page missing" message.

It is disconcerting to find that the author(s) of various pages have occasionally inserted notes to get details of findspots (locus, phase, measurements, etc.)4 and then not followed through. The number of such message is miniscule and, therefore, does not detract from the analyses presented.

Two different video formats are used -- Real Media and Quicktime -- and individual clips are available in only one of the two. This is a minor nuisance since free players for both formats are available as downloads, and newer players can handle both formats. Many videos have an audio track as well to allow the author(s) to explain the trench or procedure seen in the clip.

The underlying databases use XML and PostgreSQL and adhere to "rigorous: standards," although the exact standards used are not specified.

The navigation to the database documentation is somewhat byzantine and specific pages are hard to find. By a rather roundabout route -- (1) a link to the videos within the introduction to the excavation page,5 (2) to a link for guides and manuals, (3) to a directory listing of manuals and finally (4) to the "home.html" file on the directory listing -- the reader has access to working field manuals that describe data entry procedures for excavation, survey, artifact registration, pottery identification and protocols for pollen samples. These manuals provide as complete a description of the data within the database as possible, and direct links should be provided to them from the database pages.

Many of the pages have links to on-line articles that describe techniques, procedures and equipment used by the project members. These pages vary in quality since they are written by external suppliers and designers, but they are valuable resources for people going into the field.

I found the phase descriptions inadequate. An out-of-date glossary provides the only description that I found: "For each area, significant periods of time -- or phases -- have been defined. The phase definitions are different for each area, reflecting that different areas of the mound were active at different times in history."6 This explains the complexity, but I could not find descriptions under the area reports of relationships between phase designations and specific periods. This is particularly confusing since phases listed for specific areas are not necessarily continuous numbers, and the same phase designators are used across multiple areas. Is "phase III' in northern rim from the same time period as "phase III" in the central area? These correlations may not yet have been developed, but some note to that effect would be helpful.

The glossary includes both English and Turkish terminology. The database entries, reports and videos, however, appear to be exclusively in English.


WOW! I like it. The site has some problems, but they are those of a complex, pioneering project. The project members should be commended for their unselfish sharing of data, experiences and insights. The costs in time and effort must be enormous and are greatly appreciated by this archaeologist.

The ability to read beautifully illustrated excavation reports and simultaneously access maps and detailed data provides an incredible insight into an important archaeological site.

-- Susan C. Jones

To send comments or questions to the author, please see our email contacts page.

1. I want to thank Dr. Garrison for providing information and insight about the website and project. The current round of revisions to the site has not yet been completed.

If some of the Turkish characters do not appear properly on your screen, please, change your browser settings for the character set to show the unicode "utf-8" character set. Return to text.

2. Obviously this option does not prevent individual readers from using browser preferences to open auxiliary windows automatically. Return to text.

3. The problems with phasing is currently being addressed and may be resolved by the time you read this. Private communications from Dr. Garrison, 8 Sept 05. Return to text.

4. One example, "Currently (end of the 2001 season), this probe has reached a depth of get m. below the current surface" (http://www.choma.org/~mgarriso/Drafts/HMCentral.html; accessed 18 Aug 05). Return to text.

5. This IS NOT the same page as that on the sidebar of the home page, which also describes available videos, but an older version dated 10 Feb 2000. Return to text.

6. www.choma.org/choma/index.php?view=glossary; accessed 18 Aug 05. When I returned to the Glossary on 23 Aug 05, the definition of phase was no longer present. Return to text.

For an index of other CD and Web site reviews available on the Web pages of the CSA Newsletter, see the review index.

For other Newsletter articles concerning the use of electronic media in the humanities, consult the Subject index.

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